Spanish and English share, with only a last-letter’s difference, the word prosa/prose, which has a history less straightforward than the type of writing it represents. English took prose from Old French, which, like Spanish, got it from Latin, where it was the first part of the phrase prosa oratio. The fact that oratio was a feminine noun meaning ‘speech’ (think of oración/oration) implies that prosa was originally an adjective telling the sort of speech being referred to, and so it was. The adjective prosus (the default masculine form) was a phonetically simplified version of prorsus, which had already been simplified from Old Latin provorsus (remember that Latin v was pronounced like English w). Latin pro, a relative of native English for and forth, meant ‘forward’ and in this case ‘straightforward,’ while vorsus was a past participle of vertere ‘to turn.’ Put all that together, and prosa/prose is ‘speech that is turned out in a straightforward manner.’ Now if we could just get lawyers and politicians (and I would add administrators and professors of education, social scientists, and teenagers) to remember that, the world would be ‘[hence]forth [con]verted’ to a better place.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Feb 26, 2012 @ 18:28:33

    There’s a suggestion here that the “prosaic” among us have gotten a bad rap.
    Instead of being dull, sluggish and boring, they well could be straightforward, plain-speaking and trustworthy.

    This may help to explain why lawyers, politicians and such seem to consider being prosaic the kiss of death.


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Feb 26, 2012 @ 20:53:27

    I’m wholeheartedly on the side of the straightforward, plain-speaking and trustworthy. I’ve long been annoyed (appalled) that the people in charge of education seem incapable of saying anything in a straightforward way, and of saying it just once. For example, they talk about goals and objectives, never just one or the other, even though the two are essentially synonyms. The people in the groups I mentioned (other than teenagers, who have different language problems) have become addicted to talking in roundabout ways. I’d better stop now.


  3. Subhan Zein
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 18:03:11

    I loved your last line. Couldn’t agree more! 🙂

    Especially when it comes to politics, it’s a pity we’re now seeing greedy and evil people running for ministers and even presidents. We should have more people like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela if we want to create a better world through politics.

    Politics could be evil, when it’s not done with good intentions. But nevertheless it’s a powerful means when it’s in the right hands.. 🙂

    Subhan Zein


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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